NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CN) – A throng of supporters met Bill Cosby outside the courtroom Monday where his trial kicks off this morning on a charge of indecent sexual assault.
Though 79-year-old Cosby maintains that his 2004 sexual encounter with Andrea Constand was consensual, the accuser says she was drugged and raped at Cosby’s Cheltenham home.
The pair met at Temple University where Cosby was a trustee and Constand worked as director of operations for the women’s basketball team. This morning, a Temple University sticker featured prominently on the back window of a black SUV that drove Cosby to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.
Wearing a black suit, Cosby was escorted into the building by his aid, Andrew Wyatt, and by Keshia Knight Pulliam, the actress who played Rudy Huxtabell on “The Cosby Show.” Chants of “Free Cosby” resounded as Cosby entered the building where he has already faced roughly 18 months of pretrial proceedings.
Constand is one of dozens of women with assault claims against the entertainer, dating back to the 1970s, but none of the others came forward in time to hurdle the statute of limitations.
Cosby’s arrest followed renewed attention in the case, which came to a boil after fellow comedian Hannibal Buress went viral with a stand-up bit about how Cosby’s family-friendly image managed to overcome recurring sexual allegations.
Responding to the resulting frenzy, a federal judge released an incriminating deposition Cosby gave when Constand brought a 2005 civil case against him. Before reaching a confidential settlement with Constand, Cosby admitted to giving women quaaludes before having sex with them.
“It’s his words, from his mouth, that incriminated him,” Assistant District Attorney Kristen Feden said of the deposition in her opening statement Monday.
Pointing at Cosby dramatically throughout her opening, Feden also read the jury a portion of Cosby’s 2005 deposition in which he admitted to having a romantic interest in Constand from “the first time [he] met her.”
Defense attorney Brian McMonagle meanwhile used his opening statement to portray Cosby and Constand’s relationship as consensual.
“They kissed, they petted, they had dinners,” said McMonagle, an attorney with the firm McMonagle, Perri, McHugh & Mischak.
With the prosecution arguing that Constand did not reciprocate Cosby’s interest, however, Feden emphasized their 37-year age difference, saying Constand looked to Cosby as a mentor and friend.
“Trust and betrayal and the inability to consent is what this case is about,” Feden said, a phrase repeated throughout the prosecution’s opening statement.
On the night of her assault, the prosecutor said, Constand had sought career advice from Cosby. When she took the blue pill Cosby gave to “help her relax,” Feden said, she lost the muscle strength in her body.
That Cosby gave Constand the pill is undisputed, Feden said, reading from Cosby’s 2005 deposition where he himself admitted to giving Constand “one and a half Benedryl.”
Once Constand was incapacitated, Feden said, Cosby “grabbed her limp hand and placed it on his penis and masturbated, and he then shoved his fingers into her vagina.”
“All the while,” the prosecutor continued, “she can’t move and she can’t talk. She was paralyzed.”
Feden called on the jury to see through Cosby’s version of the events. “The defense will try and highlight [Constand’s] inconsistencies, but this case is about her inability to consent,” Feden said.
She noted that a forensic toxicologist whom the government will call to the stand will prove that the effects of Benedryl and quaaludes are quite similar.
Defense attorney McMonagle emphasized that any time Cosby used quaaludes in the past, “it was with consenting women.”
McMonagle called sexual assault a disgrace, but warned that unsupported claims “destroy a man’s life, and a man’s future.”
“As many of you look at Cosby, you may see him as a comedian who made us laugh when maybe we didn’t have reason to, maybe you see an actor, or a flawed husband, or maybe you just see a man … but I hope and pray you see a citizen who is presumed innocent,” McMonagle said.
Emphasizing that “a false accusation can destroy lives,” McMonagle urged the jury not to let the media frenzy surrounding the case cloud their judgment.
“Try to be the juror you would want if it was your father, your grandfather or you,” McMonagle said.
Cosby’s trial kicks off after a rigorous jury-screening process conducted in Pittsburgh.
Judge Steven O’Neill spoke to the unique qualities of Cosby’s jury before opening this morning’s proceedings.
”My role is to ensure a fair and impartial trial and to protect our jury the best I can,” O’Neill said. “They are over 300 miles away from home, and I understand the rights of free press, but please, let this trial play out.”
In reciting instructions to the 12-person jury for an hour this morning, the judge explained that the trial could extend into Saturday and would recess at 5:30 every day.
Prosecutors are expected this week to call 44-year-old Constand to the witness stand, where she will tell her story in public for the first time.
Assistant District Attorney Feden explained to the jury that they will also hear about their witness’s trauma from her mother, Gianna Constand.
In the months after their sexual encounter, Andrea had left Temple University and retreated to her family’s home in Canada. She only admitted what happened to her, Feden said, when she learned that her parents had bought tickets to see Cosby perform stand-up comedy.
McMonagle disputed this in his opening statement, saying Cosby had given the Constand family tickets to his show, at Andrea’s request.
Though it is undisputed that Cosby apologized to Gianna Constand in 2005 about his sexual relationship with Andrea, McMonagle offered a less damning explanation. He apologized not because she couldn’t consent, McMonagle said, “but because he was a married man and shouldn’t have had a sexual relationship with her daughter.”
The court found enough evidence to go to trial, but Cosby’s attorneys have called the years-long delay prejudicial, insisting that Cosby is now mostly blind and suffering from memory loss.
McMonagle told the jury this morning that there was a reason Constand’s case failed to get off the ground back when the incident was fresh.
“In 2005 the DA that conducted the initial investigation found that Andrea Constand was untruthful and inconsistent,” McMonagle said.
Though the initial police report quotes Constand as saying her assault occurred the first time she was alone with Cosby, McMonagle noted that she revised this. By the third interview, he said, “her story begins to unravel.”
Indeeed on the prior occasions where Constand was alone with Cosby, she brought him “incense and bath salts,” McMonagle said.
“They drank cognac and brandy by a romantic fire … later she had dinner with him in his hotel room at the Fox Wood Casino in Connecticut,” he added.
On the night Cosby provided the Benadryl, McMonagle said Constand had complained about being unable to sleep.
“She fell asleep by the fire on the couch; he went upstairs to bed,” McMonagle said. “The next morning, he made her breakfast — a muffin and tea. After that, they talked all the time.”
McMonagle shouted the next remark: ”After the alleged sexual assault in 2005, there are phone records showing, of 72 phone calls, she called him 53 times.”
The attorney also offered an explanation as to why Cosby paid for Constand’s graduate school. “He paid for countless people’s education,” McMonagle said. “It’s what he did.”
Judge O’Neill has agreed to let District Attorney Kevin Steele call just one of Cosby’s other accusers as a witness. Kelly Johnson used to work for Cosby’s agent at the William Morris Agency. She says Cosby drugged and assaulted her in 1996 at a Los Angeles hotel.
“Cosby invited her over to discuss her career,” Feden told the jury Monday. “And like Andrea, he gave her a pill. Like Andrea, she lost consciousness. Like Andrea, the defendant grabbed her hand placed it on his penis and masturbated. Like Andrea, she lost her sense of control and autonomy.”
Continue reading: Cosby Accuser Details Bel Air Assault for Pennsylvania Jury